By Eric Elezuo
As regards revelations that a number of Nigerians had actually spent tons of money and years of studying at Beninese universities only to discover on returning home after graduation that their degree was worthless, a man, Obisakin, stepped forward and successfully drew up a list of approved universities in Benin Republic. He said:
“There are 21 universities in that neighbouring country, where Nigerians seeking admission could apply. The list was arrived at after meticulous study by Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou, working in collaboration with Beninese Ministry of Tertiary Education, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education and other stakeholders.”
On February 27, 1957, in Ile-Ife, Osun State, an enigma was unleashed to the world. He appeared with little or no known antecedent or background. He struggled through life, carved a niche for himself, nurtured it, and came out, not only as a promising star, but a bright star that shone even in the noon day. He is Ambassador Lawrence Olufemi Obisakin.
Diplomat, linguist, author, translator, interpreter and minister of God; Obisakin is definitely a man of many parts. And even as he functions from these headlines, he is not known to have faulted in any.
As a multi-linguist, Obisakin is not only versed in his native Yoruba Language and Nigeria’s lingua franca, English language, he has a perfect blend and comprehension of at least four languages, and holds a degree in French and Portuguese.
“At advanced interpreter’s level, English, French, Portuguese and Yoruba; and, at ‘B’ or working level, Spanish and German. Also, (I have) an average knowledge of Igbo, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian and Russian,” he said.
Obisakin’s credentials have been boosted by one vocation that set the pace for his ability to excel in all his endeavours, and that is his pastoral calling. He is a vocational pastor, and pioneer head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s Francophone churches in Abuja from 2003 – 2007 and 2011 – 2012. With regard to work, Obisakin is infectiously passionate and meticulous.
In 2012, Obisakin, who was Director, Foreign Service Inspectorate (FSI) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, quit his local job, when he became one of the 93 new ambassadors, who got their Letters of Credence from the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Consequently, he was posted to the Republic of Benin, where he assumed duties after 16 months of diplomatic comatose of the Benin Republic axis, following the death of the previous ambassador, Olayiwola Akindele, who died in office. The seasoned diplomat, who had served in various missions, did not disappoint as he set everything in motion to turn the mission around. His versatility kept him on the job till 2016; five solid years of stewardship.
Benin Republic is Nigeria’s immediate neighbour to the west, and it is widely believed that about two million Nigerians have migrated to this Francophone nation. Despite their contiguity, ancestral ties, the huge population of nationals living in Nigeria and vice versa and the colossal volume of trade, albeit largely informal; it is worth pointing out that these two West African countries could do much to deepen their diplomatic relations, and it was not surprising when the person of Obisakin was given the mandate to head such a mission.
With his glorious godly life, lingua ability which covers Igbo Language, a language spoken by a tribe believed to have the largest number of Nigerian migrants in Benin, and his diplomatic experience spanning over 34 years, Obisakin gave his all, and applaud was all was the resultant effect.
Obisakin is enviably versatile. And, aside being a career diplomat, has a deep interest in sport, languages, diligence and passion for work among others.
Obisakin’s path to greatness, was first noticed when he emerged with Aggregate 17, Division One; the best school result among all students of Saint John’s Catholic Grammar School in Oke-Atan, IIe-Ife, in the June 1974 West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE).
Worthy of note is the fact that from 1972 to 1974, his secondary school education was funded through a Scholarship; the N.K Zard Cocoa Award. This was followed by another scholarship from the French Government, following his emergence as one of the three best students, out of the then seven universities across Nigeria.
In 1979, he had attained a similar feat, even going a step further to graduate Summa Cum Laude, bagging the equivalent of a First Class Higher Diploma in French and Social Studies (Diploma, Superieur d’etudes Francaises), thus blazing a historic trail as the first African Anglophone to record such academic distinction at the elite University III of Grenoble, France in 1979. He was a force to reckon with academically.
In 1980, Obisakin was awarded a BA (Hons) by University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). His Bachelor’s degree was in French (Major), but he also studied Portuguese for Minor. In 1994, Obisakin had landed a BBA First Class from a Brazilian university, UNEB, located in Brasilia; after a course in International Trade.
In 1997, Obisakin took a post-graduate diploma (PGD) in Theology from the Redeemed Christian Bible College in Abuja; and, only earned an MA in Biblical Leadership and Ministry. That course was steep and featured Concentration in Conflict Management from University of Newburgh in Indiana, USA. He obtained a Ph.D in Conflict Management in Feb. 2013. His thesis, accepted for publication, was on ‘Nigeria-Benin Border Conflicts: Views of Concerned Persons, Analysis And Recommendations For Resolution’.
Prior to attaining the enviable ambassadorial position as the envoy to Benin Republic, Obisakin joined Nigeria’s Foreign Service, then known as Ministry of External Affairs, on August 4, 1981.
He was a member of the pioneer class of 1983 (January to October) at the then nascent Foreign Service Academy of Nigeria in Lagos. For two years, before proceeding to Nigeria’s Foreign Service Academy in 1983, Obisakin worked as Third Secretary, Protocol Directorate as Presidential Translator and Interpreter. In the process, he also served numerous other VIPs in the same capacity.
Upon completion of his training at the Foreign Service academy, Obisakin was sent to the Embassy of Nigeria, Bern in Switzerland on Attachment Training Programme from 1983 to 1984. He subsequently worked at that mission as Second Secretary Consular (Passport and Commercial Matters) till 1986, when following his promotion to Second Secretary, he returned to the headquarters of Nigeria’s Foreign Service as Staff in the Administration Department.
The enterprising young man had his hands full between August, 1987 and January 1991, as he worked as Personal Assistant (PA) to four Foreign Ministers; Prof. A. B. Akinyemi, Senator Ike Nwachukwu, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman and Prof Akinyemi again. Thereafter, he was deployed to Embassy of Nigeria Brasilia (Brazil) as Counselor/Head of Chancery, Economic/Political Desk Officer. In 1994, after his tour of duty in Brazil, Obisakin was appointed Senior Counselor, Protocol Directorate, Head of Conference and Visit Unit (CVU) and later head of the unit in charge of Relocation of Embassies from Lagos to Abuja.
In October 1998, Obisakin was transferred to the Embassy of Nigeria in Tel-Aviv, Israel as Minister-Counselor/Head of Chancery/Desk Officer (Political/Economic Matters). He was later appointed Minister Plenipotentiary, covering Economic/Commercial Matters as well as Liaison Officer with Host Foreign Office.
From May 2003 to May 2007, Obisakin worked as Director, Protocol, (State House) and Personal Interpreter and Translator (French, Portuguese, Spanish and English) to the President and Commander-in-Chief. He later served as Minister, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations, New York. First, he was member of the Committee, dealing with Disarmament and International Security. Obisakin later served as Chairman of the African Group of this Committee as well as Election Desk Officer of Nigeria from July 2007 to February 2011 before being appointed Director, Foreign Service Inspectorate.
He was Sole Interpreter in French, Portuguese and English, during the West African Peace Negotiations on Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau in 2005 and 2006. He also worked from 2003 to 2007 as Director of Protocol and Interpreter to various presidential delegations at multilateral and bilateral levels, including the AU (African Union) and EU (European Union) as well as bilateral conferences in Africa, Asia, China, Europe and the Americas (North and South).
Evidently, his multilateral prowess and diverse experiences could not have come easy, but his attendance to many UN General Assembly (UNGA) since 1987 as Member of the Nigeria Delegation helped in no small measure. He was also at UNGA 1990, and was a Member of the Delegation to the historic Rio 92 summit on environment and climate change in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Additionally, Obisakin saw action as Member, National Delegation to UNGA from 2003 to 2006, where he participated in Bilateral Meetings on the fringes as well as several AU Ordinary and Extra-Ordinary Sessions in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia since 1987.
Diplomacy is not all Obisakin is versed in. He is a prolific author, and has not less than five books and an academic paper to his credit. The titles of some his published works are Dislodging demons: A systemic approach to deliverance ministration (Jerusalem) Yanetz Ltd. 2002; Protocol for life: Guidelines on diplomatic official and social matters (Ibadan) Spectrum Books Limited, 2007; God the Holy Spirit: Mystery of Christianity (Ibadan) Spectrum books Limited, 2007; On the Wings of time, a novel; also published by Spectrum Books in 2007; Proverbs in communication: A conflict Resolution Perspective (New York) Triumph Publishing, 2010; and, an Academic paper: Interpretation in diplomacy: A testimonial Approach (University of Legon, Ghana).
Interestingly, this topflight diplomat holds some professional certificates, too. Obisakin holds a UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Certificate in Structure, Drafting and Adoption of UN Resolutions (2007); and, another UNITAR Certificate in Effective Negotiation in Multilateral Conferences (2008).
Ambassador Obisakin is married to Pastor (Mrs.) Cecilia Gbemisola Obisakin, and is blessed with four children.
For a man so occupied, Obisakin also find time to unwind through athletics, jogging, reading, table-tennis, volleyball, theology and writing.
For those who felt that given his polyglot nature, a mission in Europe would have been best, Obisakin believed that his posting to Benin Republic was divine as it flushed out the rot that accumulated 16 months after the death of his predecessor.
Just recently, he was conferred with the award of Commandeur Del’Ordre National Du Benin (Commander of The National Order of Benin). According to The Grand Chancelliere, Dr. Mrs Koubourath Anjorin Oseni, the decision to decorate Obisaki was taken as a result of his contributions in promoting Nigeria/ Benin bilateral relations for the past three years and nine months.
It will be noted that the bilateral trade between the nations grew by about 600% during Olusakin’s term. During this period, Dangote was able to transport cement via Benin to Ghana. This has enabled the movement of products to Ghana in a win-win operation for Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. Also, he was able to produce more respectable bi- lingual machine-readable consular identity cards for Nigeria citizens in Benin Republic that have data base regularly given to the host security agencies.